”The first thing you should know about us is that we have people everywhere.”
This twenty-second installment in the James Bond film series omits elements from the previous films, but the main frame still exists – memorable dialogue, a familiar alias (Universal Exports) and globetrotting locations including Italy, Haiti, Boliva, and, of course, London. This installment also boasts an Aston Martin (law enforcement characters exclaim the brand just in case viewers miss it) and the always impressive gadgets including a computer desktop interface that’s literally the size of a large desktop, though echoes of Minority Report are unavoidable.
Talented filmmakers continue putting a new spin on this long-running film series and expect audiences to work a little throughout the plot. Director Marc Forster brings his cinematographer Roberto Schaefer along for a wild ride which doesn’t include any camera shake effect and instead uses fluidly fast shots following the action. Paul Haggis again has screenwriting duties with Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. This screenwriting trio makes a decent one-hour-and-46-minute story full of crowd pleasing action, especially the fantastic chase scene ending in an interior showdown on a scaffold.
Inventive action sequences are top notch and the stunts include 007 film veteran Gary Powell who doubled for Pierce Brosnan and keeps a strong family tradition of stunts dating back to his father’s work doubling for Sean Connery. Unpredictable elements (who to trust, quick plot turns, etc.) are surprisingly missing here as filmmakers, assisted by second unit/assistant director Dan Bradley, create awe-inspiring, but familiar action genre elements. Filmmakers don’t use any Vesper flashbacks, so audiences who didn’t see the previous Bond film Casino Royale will be a little lost in this first true sequel in the Bond film series. The powerful music score from the returning composer David Arnold, the Tosca opera sequence (creating a great parallel) and duet theme song, "Another Way To Die", sung by Jack White and Alicia Keys, all pack a punch.
James Bond, well played again by Daniel Craig, declares he’s “motivated by duty”, but M questions his apparently vengeful motives regarding Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. Craig handles the physical and emotional demands very well as a Bond not intimidated by anything. Camille, played by model/budding actress Olga Kurylenko has similar motives as she puts herself right into harm’s way to fulfill her goals. Her relationship with Bond creates rare sensitivity on both sides. British actress Gemma Arterton plays Bond’s colleague Fields (a.k.a. Strawberry Fields, due to her red hair) who Bond predictably and easily woos. Audiences must remember Bond’s new, high-status reputation probably has a lot to do with this conquest.
Bond’s edgy personality culminates well in an epic sequence where he collectively takes down a group of forgettable baddies with technology instead of violence. Bond’s main adversary, Dominic Greene, played by Mathieu Amalric, headlines the very standard villains. Amalric’s expressive eyes and wide ranging threats make Dominic a strong leader for his secret organization, but neither he or his right hand man, played by international star Anatole Taubman, stand a chance against Bond physically.
Judi Dench returns in her sixth appearance as Bond’s smart, steely superior M who holds a stronger relationship with her dangerously talented subordinate than any of the two “Bond” girls. “If you could avoid killing every possible lead, it would be most appreciated,” M tells Bond. M also knows Bond’s power over women (and vice versa in Vesper’s case) can jeopardize an assignment at any moment, so she keeps her skepticism, though her trust in Bond remains constant.
Mathis, played by famed Italian actor Giancarlo Giannini, Mr. White, played by veteran actor Jesper Christensen, and U.S. agent Felix Leiter, played by Jeffrey Wright all return. Mathis embodies the world Bond is still learning. “You haven’t been keeping a low profile as I have,” Mathis tells Bond. It’s a fast-paced, modern world where the villains and heroes get all mixed up. Bond also sees Mathis as a bridge to resolve his past.
Bond still gets all the training and gadgets, audiences just don’t get to see the character connections yet. Bond’s exchanges with M are great, but past sequences between Bond and gadget expert Q are missed. These memorable moments played out like comedy routines making them special staples of the series. Audiences look forward to these moments, which create a pleasant break from the action making the 007 films even more special because audiences know they can expect it. Without an overly familiar format, filmmakers could have boosted the surprise/twist level a bit more. Filmmakers might gradually reintroduce more familiar elements from past films (the name introduction, the vodka martini order, etc.), perhaps in a new or better way, but for now Bond’s more bravado filled personality quirks remain in check.
This recommended Bond installment has heaps of action, but needs a more special moments to push it the higher level that Casino Royale achieved. Rated PG-13 for intense violent sequences, action and some sexual content. Watch the ending credits for the classic gun barrel sequence.